Safe365 Launches First-Ever Free Mobile Care App for Seniors

July 29, 2019  
Filed under Aging Parents, News

Despite our hyper-connected world, elders are often by themselves and vulnerable in many situations, leaving family members worried about their safety. But now a free app is providing newfound protection and peace of mind for all people involved. Safe365 is being launched as the first free mobile telecare application for seniors. Through the app, family members know at all times where their loved ones are, if they have arrived safely home or at their destination, or if a confused senior loved one may have wandered away.

The app has other functionalities as well: an emergency button for the senior to press to get help; automatic notifications when your family member enters or leaves a certain area; an option to warn when a mobile device is running out of battery, or whether they have or not Internet access, etc. What also sets Safe365 apart is its intelligent notifications based on pattern detections of the elderly user. The machine learning aspect in the app helps hone in on habits of the family member and can send out an alert when something outside that habit takes place.

The app maximizes the use of GPS technology but also sports a social and “e-motional” side to it as well. It connects elders with their families via features like photo and mood sharing. It also offers an infinite scrolling social feed with latest family actions much like an Instagram-type app. Safe365 is available around the world with user presence in 193 countries around the world

“We are not following trends, but rather we are the first to develop an app for the elderly in an engaged, social and emotional way,” says Guillem Viladomat, CEO of Safe365. “Busy schedules sometimes keep us from remembering tasks involving elderly family members and make us feel guilty. With Safe365 it feels like you are connected to your family 24/7. Safe365 helps extend years of self-reliance for our loved ones, even delaying expensive senior housing solutions.”

Although Safe365 has been designed to be a safety locator for the elderly, it is open to any type of audience that can adapt the app’s functionality to their needs. For example, it can also serve as a GPS locator for children in case parents want to know their kids’ location when they return only from school or are headed to or from a friend’s house.

For more information on the full capabilities and benefits of Safe365: www.Safe365.com

Big Variation In Part D Costs Means Most Medicare Beneficiaries Overpay for Prescriptions

July 29, 2019  
Filed under Money, News

A new analysis  from The Senior Citizens League (TSCL) of 12 frequently – prescribed drugs illustrates that Medicare recipients frequently overpay for their medications.  “Because Medicare doesn’t negotiate drug prices there are wild swings in prices between Part D drug plans,” says Mary Johnson, The Senior Citizens League’s Medicare and Social Security policy analyst.  The difference in cost for the same drug between drug plans can be in the thousands of dollars for the most expensive drugs, and hundreds of dollars for more common prescriptions. Since the start of Medicare Part D in 2006, Johnson has volunteered to help friends and acquaintances shop for Part D plans.

Although Medicare has an annual Open Enrollment period, when beneficiaries can compare drug plans and switch to lower costing drug plans, few retirees actually do so.  “In most areas of the country, the Medicare beneficiaries have more than two dozen Part D plans to sort through, and the average person just don’t know where to begin, or that free, unbiased help is available,” Johnson says.  “Consequently, Medicare beneficiaries winds up overpaying for prescriptions that could be obtained for a lower cost from a different drug plan.”

Johnson compared the lowest and highest cost between drug plans for a list of 12 frequently – prescribed drugs.  The list includes commonly prescribed brand name and specialty drugs, as well as two widely – used generics.  The analysis found: 

  1. The difference in drug prices between the lowest and highest costing plans, can be in the hundreds, or even thousands, of dollars.  For brand name and specialty drugs, the most frequent reason that the drug costs so much more in the highest costing plan is lack of coverage.  The drug is not listed on the high cost plan’s formulary.  For example, the lowest cost plan for Sovaldi, a drug used to treat Hepatitis C, charges $5,600 in co-insurance (for a one-year treatment).  The highest cost drug plan charges $100,800, the full cost of the drug, because Sovaldi is not on the plan’s formulary.
  2. New Part D plan drug pricing programs may lower costs for those who seek out the savings.  Recent Congressional scrutiny on drug pricing may be spurring some drug plans to drop prices.  One of the biggest cost-savings found is a new drug plan pricing program that lowers the cost of insulin.  In the 2018, the lowest cost Part D plan charged an $80 copay for a 100/ML of Lantus Solostar.  In 2019, a different plan had lowest cost copays charging as little as $6.00 – $11.00 for Lantus Solostar, in the Cigna-HealthSpring Rx Secure — Extra Part D plan.  The highest cost plan, which does not cover Lantus, charges the full price, $383.18 per 100/ML.
  3. High premiums don’t necessarily purchase better coverage.  The generic blood pressure medication, Lisinopril, is one of the most commonly used prescriptions by Medicare beneficiaries.  The least expensive Part D plan charges $0 copay for the drug, and the plan’s monthly premium is just $14.50 in the zip code used in the analysis.  The most expensive plan charges a co-pay of $9.19, and the plan has a monthly premium of $93.30.   Counting premiums, that’s a difference of $1,055.88 for the entire year.

“To avoid overpaying for prescriptions, and to find the most affordable coverage, the importance of comparing drug plans during one’s initial enrollment in Medicare, and during Medicare’s annual Fall Open Enrollment period October 15th -December 7th can’t be overstated,” Johnson says.  Most people 65 and over take more than one prescription drug, and to get the best plan, consumers need to compare plans based on all the drugs they actually take.  In addition, consumers should compare prices between pharmacies, including mail order, which can also vary.

Free one-on-one assistance is available to help compare and select plans through state health insurance assistance programs.  Many of these programs operate through Area Agencies on Aging, or senior centers.  Local program contact info can be found at: https://www.shiptacenter.org.

The Senior Citizens League is working for enactment of legislative measures that would lower prescription drug costs.  To learn how to get involved, visit www.SeniorsLeague.org.

 

Legislative Changes Will Impact the Sale of Capital Assets and Real Estate

July 2, 2019  
Filed under Money, News

 

MONTPELIER, Vt.— In late May, the Vermont legislature made two significant changes for 2019 which will affect the sale of capital assets and real estate. Both changes were in Act 71 and will take effect July 1, 2019.

The first change is in the treatment of capital gains as it relates to a taxpayer’s personal income taxes. Under current law there is a 40 percent exclusion for capital gains which will be soon capped at $350,000 as of July 1. This means that any gain above $875,000 will be taxed at standard income tax rates beginning on July 1, 2019.

“If you are currently considering the sale of a large capital asset such as a business or investment property that you have owned for more than three years, the Department of Taxes suggests you contact your tax preparer for guidance immediately,” said Acting Tax Commissioner Craig Bolio.

The second change is related to the transfer of real estate or real property in Vermont. Under current law, the Property Transfer Tax only applies to the transfer of ownership of real property by deed.

Effective July 1, the purchase of a controlling interest in an entity holding title to real property in the state of Vermont will trigger a property transfer tax liability. Generally, a controlling interest means 50 percent or more of stock, capital, profits or beneficial interest in an entity. The tax due from the purchaser is calculated based on the fair market value of the property.

The department will issue additional guidance and links on its website as soon as possible. Taxpayers who have questions about these changes should contact their tax preparers. A tax preparer who is most familiar the taxpayer’s circumstances will be able to provide the most relevant and beneficial guidance.

New AARP Research on Grandparents Busts Stereotypes on Attitudes, Employment, Finances and Lifestyle

April 18, 2019  
Filed under Aging Parents, Health & Wellness, News


Research Finds That Age of First-Time Grandparents Rises from 47 to 50; Number of Grandparents in Workforce Increases from 24 to 40 Percent

AARP released its Grandparents Today National Survey highlighting the latest trends among grandparents in the United States. Since 2001 the number of grandparents has grown by 24 percent from 56 million to 70 million. The research found that grandparents spend an average of $2,562 annually on their grandchildren, equaling approximately $179 billion dollars per year. The youngest grandparent is about 38 years old, with 50 being the average age of becoming a first-time grandparent.

The research found that grandparents have, on average, four to five grandchildren, down from six to seven in 2011. The number of grandparents in the workforce has increased in the past seven years, with 40 percent of grandparents currently employed up from 24 percent in 2011

“Today’s grandparents are an economic force that cannot be ignored,” said Alison Bryant, senior vice president of research, AARP. “They are living longer, working longer, shattering stereotypes and supporting their grandchildren in a variety of ways, including financially and culturally. Nearly all grandparents are providing some sort of financial support, helping to ease the costs of raising kids.”

Key Financial Findings:

The research found that grandparents enjoy the positive aspects of grandparenting such as supporting dreams and sharing roots, history and culture, and experiences. But grandparenting can have a downside for some: 13 percent of grandparents struggle with the financial expectations of being a grandparent, including the cost of traveling to see the grandchildren. Seven percent of grandparents have taken on debt to help their grandchildren pay for college and one in four of those grandparents have cosigned private student loans for their grandchildren and/or incurred credit card debt that has not yet been paid back in full.

View the Grandparents Today National Survey – Financial Fact Sheet.

Other key findings of the research include:

  • 94 percent of grandparents provide some sort of financial support to their grandchild(ren);
  • 87 percent would accept an LGBT grandchild;
  • 34 percent have grandchildren of mixed or different race/ethnicity;
  • 71 percent say their health status is very good or excellent;
  • 89 percent say their relationships with their grandchild(ren) is good for their mental well-being;
  • 29 percent live more than 50 miles away from their closest child, up from 19 percent in 2011;
  • 11 percent have a grandchild living with them, consistent with 2011 results;
  • 5 percent of those in multigenerational households are primary caregivers of a grandchild living with them.

Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center To Host “99 Faces” Art Project

March 28, 2019  
Filed under Health & Wellness, News

National exhibit works to reduce stigma of mental illness, opens April 1

Approximately one in five adults in the United States experiences some form of mental illness, most of whom do so without ever showing signs of their illness to others. The 99 Faces Project: Portraits Without Labels,” designed by Boston-based visual artist Lynda Michaud Cutrell, seeks to break down the stigma associated with mental illness and to encourage those on their path to recovery, as well as their families.

Using art as the vehicle, this unique art exhibit will make its New Hampshire debut at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center on April 1 and includes photographs, videos, paintings and sculptures to challenge commonly held assumptions about what living with mental illness looks like, by presenting true-to-life images.

“A key to living well with any disability is to not be burdened with fear of stigma, but rather to have loving acceptance and inspiring role models,” said Cutrell.  “The Many Faces of Our Mental Health Project hopes to encourage those who are on their path to recovery, as well as their families.”

The compelling images are unlabeled and feature 33 people on the bipolar spectrum, 33 suffering from schizophrenia, and 33 people who love and support them. Each image is presented anonymously to reinforce that symptoms don’t define the person. The portraits are diverse, ranging from three years old to individuals in their 90s, and includes individuals from virtually every walk of life.

Dartmouth-Hitchcock is already deeply involved in efforts to address the mental health crisis, and to “change the conversation” about mental health issues. That work is led by D-H Senior Director of Public Affairs and former Chief Justice for the New Hampshire Supreme Court, John Broderick, who for the past two-and-a-half years has been visiting schools in northern New England, urging students to end the stigma surrounding mental health.

“For real culture change to happen, and for transformative conversation to begin, we all need to know what mental illness looks like,” says Broderick. “The 99 Faces Project shows us that mental illness spans all aspects of our society. Hopefully, 99 Faces will also help us open our hearts, change our minds and, at long last, no longer tolerate the shame and stigma that have kept too many people and families suffering alone and afraid for way too long.”

The 99 Faces Project is brought to Dartmouth-Hitchcock by the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Arts Program and has already inspired conversation and action with public programs planned for the six-month installation including events for “Veterans and Mental Health” in May and “Law Enforcement and Mental Health” in June.

“Our arts program has grown to include creative artists visiting with our patients to facilitate their journey and playing a key role in our holistic approach to healthcare,” said Marianne Barthel, director of the DHMC Arts Program.  “The arts program’s next step in growth is to utilize the arts as a platform for having deeper conversations about key health care issues facing our communities, The 99 Faces Project fits perfectly into our objectives and I’m proud that we are the first hospital in the United States to host the exhibit.”

The exhibit is free and is open for public viewing during regular hospital hours. To learn more about this exhibit, please visit D-H.org/arts/99-faces.html

 

 

Beware: More than One-Quarter of Vermont Adults Confirm First-Hand Accounts of Relationship Scams

February 14, 2019  
Filed under Aging Parents, Mature Matters, News

 

BURLINGTON, VT – As millions of Americans meet others on matchmaking websites, dating apps and social media, 27 percent of Vermont residents polled in a new AARP survey reported that they, a family member or a friend have encountered attempted financial scams while seeking friendship or love interest online.

To help empower people to take steps to protect themselves and their family members, the AARP Fraud Watch Network has launched an educational campaign to raise awareness of online-based relationship fraud schemes.

The idea of going online to broaden one’s social networks continues to gain in popularity.  More than half (53 percent) of Vermont adults have used the internet to find new friends, dates and/or romantic partners, according to the AARP survey.  But scammers also use the dating sites, apps and social media.  The AARP survey found that 10 percent of state residents have either been victimized by an online relationship scam or know someone who was.  More troubling, 59 percent of the victims reported suffering a negative effect on their physical and/or emotional health.

“Many of us, along with our family members, have successfully made new friends or even established deeper relationships online,” said Greg Marchildon, AARP Vermont state director.  “But as with every other aspect of life these days, you must be aware that the criminal element lurks there also.  Our message is: protect your heart – and your money.”

The AARP educational campaign includes advertising, webinars, podcasts, a fun video and a tip sheet.  Each of the campaign’s content elements urge consumers to recognize the warning signs that their online suitor may

actually be a fraudster:

  • They profess love too quickly.
  • The person immediately wants to leave the dating website and communicate with you through email or instant messaging.
  • Your new romantic interest sends you a picture that looks more like a model from a fashion magazine than an ordinary snapshot.
  • He or she repeatedly promises to meet you in person but always seems to come up with an excuse to cancel.
  • They make a request for money, for any of a variety of reasons: travel, medical emergencies, visas or other official documents, or losses from a financial setback. Ten percent of respondents in AARP/Vermont’s survey said a friend or romantic partner whom they have only met online has asked them to help them financially in some way.

Spotting Fraudsters: Don’t Become a Victim

November 5, 2018  
Filed under Aging Parents, News

By: Dr. Stacey Wood, Ph.D.

 

Fraud takes many different forms these days, with identity theft being foremost among them. Just about anyone can become a victim. Some groups are at greater risk than others of falling victim to identity theft. The groups most at risk for identity theft are children and adults with caregivers, users of social media, business owners, high-level employees, college students, and young adults. Learning how to protect yourself is essential for avoiding fraud.

Read more

5 Ways to Stop Spam Calls 

November 2, 2018  
Filed under Aging Parents, News

By Sid Kirchheimer, courtesy AARP Bulletin, October 2018

Unwanted phone calls and text messages continue to surge, no matter what efforts lawmakers and regulators take to curb them. In the first four months of this year, call-blocking service YouMail reports, more than 12 billion robocalls were made to American homes. That’s about 4 million every hour, and a steady increase from last year. Live calls from telemarketers have also continued to increase. Read more

DVHA Launches Tool to Help Vermonters Compare 2019 Health Plans and Save Money

October 22, 2018  
Filed under Health & Wellness, News

Recent changes mean that Vermonters who take a few minutes to compare plans will find more choices and more financial help than ever before

 

In preparation for open enrollment, state officials have launched the 2019 version of an online tool that helps Vermonters weigh insurance options and choose the health plan that best fits their needs and budget. The 2019 Plan Comparison Tool is accessible from VermontHealthConnect.gov and allows individuals and small business employees to easily screen at least 26 health plan options.

As in past years, the tool allows members to compare total costs in an average year or bad year, view doctor directories and drug lists, and much more. New this year, the tool also provides members with the ability to see their total costs in a low-use year (or “good year”) and the likelihood of someone with their age and health status having a good year.

With big changes on the horizon, the tool is an essential five-minute step for all current and prospective members of Vermont’s health insurance marketplace.

Three big changes in marketplace

First, it’s important to note that most Vermonters who purchase health insurance on their own qualify for financial help to lower the cost of coverage. Due to a complex set of events initiated by recent federal changes, that financial help will go way up in 2019. Subsidized single members will receive over $1,200 more in 2019 than they did in 2018, while couples and families will generally receive over $2,500 more.  This means that most members will see significant savings if they explore all options (see what the typical member pays in 2018 vs. 2019).

A second change is that premiums for silver-level qualified health plans (QHPs) are increasing much more than other metal level plans. This is especially notable because three out of five (60%) individuals are currently enrolled in silver plans. It is especially important for these members to actively explore their alternatives.

Finally, to help small business employees and higher income individuals whose incomes are too high to qualify for financial help, Vermont developed “reflective silver” plans. These plans – available only by calling Blue Cross Blue Shield of Vermont (BCBSVT) or MVP Health Care (MVP) directly – give unsubsidized members the opportunity to buy silver plans for closer to the price they paid for similar plans in 2018. Reflective silver plans are displayed on the 2019 Plan Comparison Tool, but only if the tool determines that the user does not qualify for subsidies.

“We want Vermonters to know that there were policy changes at the federal level that could impact the cost of their current plans,” said Governor Phil Scott. “I want to thank the members of my Administration, legislature, and stakeholders across the state who came together to respond to these changes with a focus on affordability for Vermonters. The key remaining step is for Vermonters to pick the right plans and, fortunately, the Plan Comparison Tool is here as a resource to help them do just that,” Governor Scott added.

Time to take action

Current Vermont Health Connect members aren’t required to compare health plans or to take any action at all. As long as they continue to pay their bills, members are automatically renewed into the 2019 version of their 2018 plan. In past years, most members have gone this route. Due to this year’s changes, however, officials are strongly encouraging members to invest the time needed to be sure they’re in the best plan for them.

“This is not the year to auto-renew,” said Cory Gustafson, Commissioner of the Department of Vermont Health Access. “Comparison shopping is how Americans try to get the best deal possible for all kinds of consumer choices. That is true for every purchase, every year, but it’s especially true for health insurance in 2019. The difference between the ‘right plan’ and ‘wrong plan’ could easily be thousands of dollars. Fortunately, the Plan Comparison Tool will help Vermonters identify the right plan.”

About the Plan Comparison Tool

The Plan Comparison Tool was developed by the non-profit Consumers’ Checkbook and has won the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s award for best plan choice tool. This is the fourth year that Vermont is using the tool. It has been used in nearly 60,000 sessions over the last twelve months.

After taking a couple minutes to enter age, income, health status, and expected use of medical services, the anonymous tool tells the user if they qualify for financial help to lower the cost of coverage. It also presents the estimated total annual costs (premium minus subsidies plus estimated out-of-pocket) of each of the 26+ qualified health plans. The user then has several options for sorting and screening results, or they can dive into plan details and link to more information on the BCBSVT and MVP websites.

“This kind of resource is very important because a consumer just can’t figure out: is a plan with the $200 deductible and a $10,000 out-of-pocket limit better for me than a plan with a $2,000 deductible and $4,000 out-of-pocket limit—and how about differences in co-pays, co-insurance, etc.?” said Robert Krughoff, president of Consumers’ Checkbook. “People don’t know how much various health services cost or their likelihood of needing different services – and even health insurance experts can be hard-pressed to figure out which plan is best without a helpful tool. Vermont Health Connect is a leader in making this help available.”

About 2019 Open Enrollment

Open Enrollment is the time when new applicants can use the marketplace to sign up for health and dental plans for the coming year. It is also an opportunity for existing members to change plans – an option that many more members than usual will want to consider for 2019.

This year’s Open Enrollment runs from November 1 to December 15, just like last year. Vermonters who sign up or request a new plan will have a start date of January 1.  Those who miss the deadline could have to wait until January 2020 to start health coverage, although residents who qualify for Medicaid can sign up throughout the year and those who qualify for a Special Enrollment Period generally have 60 days to sign up.

Starting November 1, applicants can sign up in one of four ways: online, by phone, by paper, or with an in-person assister. For more information or to get started, visit http://VermontHealthConnect.gov or call 1-855-899-9600.

 

Sleep and Memory: How They Work Together Psychiatrist & Sleep Medicine Specialist Dr. Alex Dimitriu Offers Tips on Improving Both

October 22, 2018  
Filed under Health & Wellness, News

“Sleep on it.” We’ve long known that a good night’s sleep confers important benefits on mood, alertness, concentration, and judgment. Research over more than a century has also established that sleep plays an important role in memory retention. More recently, studies have begun to establish more precisely how the connection between sleep and memory works. “Sleep and memory are both mysterious,” says psychiatrist and sleep specialist Dr. Alex Dimitriu. “Exciting research is being done to unearth the secrets of the connection between them. We’ve known that the quantity and quality of sleep affect our ability to learn and remember in two ways. First, adequate sleep enables us to concentrate so we can learn efficiently. Then, sleep itself is needed to consolidate memories of what has been learned. Now neuroscientists are learning how different facets of memory and different stages of sleep work together.”

There are three necessary steps for memory to function properly: acquisition occurs when we learn or experience something new; consolidation is the process that stabilizes the new information in the brain – makes it stick; and recall is the ability to access the information after it is stored. Acquisition and recall occur when we are awake, consolidation while we sleep. “When we are awake,” says Dr. Dimitriu, “our brains are optimized to react to external stimuli and encode new memories that are, at that point, unstable and subject to forgetting. The sleeping brain, with greatly reduced exposure to external stimuli, provides optimal conditions for the consolidation processes that strengthen and integrate the new memory into existing knowledge networks for long-term storage.”

 

“At one time,” says Dr. Dimitriu, “it was thought that sleep played a passive role in enhancing memory by protecting it from interference by external stimuli. Now we know that sleep plays a more active role. It was also thought that rapid-eye-movement (REM) sleep played the primary role. Now we know that slow-wave sleep (SWS) plays an important role in consolidating memories. Scientists now believe that different kinds of memories are processed during different stages of sleep.”

 

The stages of sleep alternate in a cycle over the course the sleep period. SWS, which is deep, restful sleep, is predominant during the early part of the cycle and then decreases in intensity and duration; REM sleep, when dreaming most frequently occurs, becomes more intense and longer-lasting toward the end of the sleep period. While the relationship between types of memory and sleep stages is complex, some studies have suggested that declarative memory, which is fact-based – what we know – benefits primarily from sleep periods dominated by SWS and procedural memory – remembering how to do something – is related to REM sleep.

 

“There’s a lot we don’t know about the relationship between sleep and memory,” says Dr. Dimitriu. “But we know that adequate sleep will improve concentration to help you learn and will help you remember what you’ve learned.” Dr. Dimitriu offers these suggestions for improving the quantity and quality of sleep:

·        Exercise early in the day, not within several hours of bedtime.

·        Reduce or eliminate stimulants such as caffeine and nicotine during the day and alcohol in the evening.

·        Avoid naps or limit them to 30 minutes; don’t nap after 3:00pm.

·        Stick to a sleep schedule, going to bed and waking at the same time each day, including weekends.

·        Relax and clear your mind before bedtime – read a book, listen to quiet music, take a hot bath

·        Keep your room cooler than during the day. Use a fan or noise machine to mask distracting sounds. Try room-darkening shades if morning light is waking you too early.

·        Consider changing your mattress and bedding if it’s more than 5-8 years old. Bed, mattress and pillow are important to quality sleep and eliminating back pain.

·        Don’t eat a heavy meal or drink a lot of liquid close to bedtime.

·        Increasing exposure to sunlight or bright light during the day can improve sleep at night.

·        The opposite is true at night. Don’t use a computer, tablet or smart phone right before going to bed! The light from the screen stimulates the brain and makes it hard to fall asleep.

 

Alex Dimitriu, MD, is double board-certified in psychiatry and sleep medicine

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